Can You Spread Bronchitis To Other People?

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition that causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which help direct air to your lungs, per Medical News Today. There are two different types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. A 2022 study published in the journal Stat Pearls explained that acute bronchitis is a common respiratory illness in the United States, and reported that an estimated 5% of adults are diagnosed with the condition each year.

As far as chronic bronchitis is concerned, the American Lung Association reported that in 2018, 3.6% of adults in the United States were diagnosed with the condition. Rates were more prevalent in women and those 65 years and older. The symptoms of bronchitis can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. The inflammation can cause swelling and mucus production, leading to an incessant cough that can be wet or dry, wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest, and shortness of breath. 

What causes bronchitis and is it contagious?

Acute bronchitis is a short-term condition that usually lasts for a couple of weeks and is often caused by a viral infection, but can also be caused by a bacterial infection as well, reports Johns Hopkins Medicine. This type of bronchitis is contagious and can be spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, per Medical News Today. The virus or bacteria can then be inhaled by others and cause infection.

Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is a long-term condition that is characterized by a persistent cough that lasts for at least three months out of the year for two consecutive years, per WebMD. This type of bronchitis is generally not considered contagious as the inflammation and damage to the airways that occur are caused by smoking or long-term exposure to irritants such as air pollution, dust, or environmental fumes. It is also thought that exposure to pesticides may increase your chances of developing chronic bronchitis. 

Treatment and prevention of bronchitis

Acute bronchitis typically does not require specific treatment and will resolve on its own within a few weeks. Antibiotics are not typically used as the cause is usually related to a viral infection, rather than bacterial. The focus is usually on easing symptoms by adding moisture to the air, perhaps with a humidifier, avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke, and using cough medicine or OTC pain relievers such as Tylenol, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. Staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest are also essential for recovery.

To prevent the spread of acute bronchitis, practicing good respiratory hygiene — such as covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding close contact with others — is important. If you are diagnosed with acute bronchitis, staying home from work or school is important until you are no longer contagious.

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition requiring ongoing management to prevent complications and improve quality of life. Treatment may involve a combination of medications such as bronchodilators, steroids, and oxygen therapy, per WebMD. Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and avoiding irritants such as air pollution and chemical fumes are also important for managing the condition.